"Cowboys & Candlelight" raises funds to support DSU Rodeo scholarships

Mar. 4—DICKINSON — Last weekend, the "Cowboys and Candlelight" event at Dickinson State University (DSU) gave attendees a comfortable setting to meet the rodeo team and connect with fellow enthusiasts, serving as an annual fundraiser for the DSU Rodeo Club. The Biesiot Activities Center hosted the event on Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024, with proceeds supporting student rodeo scholarships and programming.

Attendees enjoyed a fine candlelight meal, followed by games, an auction, and a dance. Steve Easton, the president of DSU, took the opportunity to encourage community involvement in the construction of a new rodeo arena. This new arena will be part of a larger project to significantly upgrade the university's agriculture building, potentially resulting in a larger arena that could seat 600 to 800 people, include a VIP area, and offer additional classroom space alongside the improved rodeo facilities.

"If we can build this facility, I am convinced that we're not only going to host college rodeos but we're going to be hosting some rodeos that are shown on television across the country," Easton said.

The overall event also offered a chance for people to get to know the team, and that includes head coach Eudell Larson, who said it's an excellent chance for the team to raise heavy funding for rodeo scholarships at DSU.

"It's a very-important event," Larson said. "We are so excited and thankful for this opportunity."

Larson added, "Rodeo's come into a new era, so-to-speak, and it's getting a lot of publicity and a lot of new fans ... so, this is a great thing for DSU to do."

About the possible arena, The DSU Heritage Foundation and the university approached the North Dakota Department of Education a few years ago when the ag building and current indoor arena — and their deteriorating condition — were noticed by representatives of Governor Doug Burgum's office. Then, steps were taken to secure $17.1 million in the most-recent legislative session to fund the project and improve the facilities for students, initially, with the funding being in a line-item in the North Dakota university system's appropriation bill for the project.

Among those top-priority improvements would be to the classrooms and laboratories in the facility, along with the surrounding areas for infrastructure such as the parking areas and drainage at the site.

Basically, there are two different options on the table: Either an $18M option — which would require funding of $900,000 to unlock the currently available money — and a more-grandiose $25M project that could include everything from a restaurant area and vip section (which would double as a classroom during the week), expanded seating to 800 instead of 600, a warm-up area (which is necessary for the horses to prevent injuries after being brought in from outside), a press-box for broadcasting events and increased stalls for livestock to keep them inside and out of the cold during winter.

Former DSU rodeo standout and Blue Hawk alumnus Jade Boote was in attendance with her younger brother Jory — who is currently a DSU rodeo athlete — and she said the event was a way for them to get-together and enjoy their community.

"We just came as a family this weekend and this is one of our outings for the year," Jade Boote said. "It really gets the word out about Dickinson rodeo and the opportunities for the new indoor arena and the Ag building, this is a huge event for what the future holds in store for Dickinson State rodeo."

Jory Boote offered, "It's awesome; we get so many great people here to come out and support us and it's a pretty cool deal. It also gives us a reason to dress up and have a little fun."

Kyle Smith, who is the DSU Heritage Foundation's development office Athletics & Rodeo representative, said Cowboys & Candlelight is a solid networking opportunity for those who share the mutual interest of rodeo.

"The friendships and seeing people you haven't seen in a couple years and those you saw last year at this event and the people you worked with last week are out here and it's a good opportunity to get together and have a good night and raise a little bit of money for a good cause," Smith said. "It's fun to see everybody get their nails done, get their hair done and have the guys in a nice jacket that you don't get to see walking down the school hallway ... anytime you get people together that care about the same thing, they're willing to do it."

Future rodeo stars Chance Kling, Jace Boote and Pete Maher also were palling-around together, and Maher said "barrel racing" is their favorite part of the sport and he is a former national participant in his junior high age group during last-year's season.

"It was in Georgia and it was hot, but it was fun," Maher said. "And yup, I want to be a pro someday."

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